The Kenyan government is at the forefront when it comes to ICT adoption. The ICT tools adopted were set up to provide efficient service and facilitate communication with citizens. Netizens have witnessed Facebook video chats by the President, hashtags used by political parties to push their agenda, government websites and social media accounts setup to interact with citizens, among many. All these give an impression that ICTs have enabled a two way communication, however, is it the case? This project dubbed, Government Responsiveness in the Age of ICTs, will dissect ICT tools launched by national and county governments and take an in depth view on their usage and feedback mechanisms employed.
Data collection was done in Nairobi, Nakuru, Kisumu and Mombasa with representatives from the civil society, software developers and government representatives. We published preliminary findings here, here, here and here. One interesting perspective from the discussions was the journey towards acquiring an identity card (ID). Getting an ID is an entry point to citizen rights (e.g., voting), employment, financial services. Whereas, the identity card is key, it also brings tribal politics at play 1,2, Until recently, Kenya had 42 tribes, with some citizens having the extra caution to prove their Kenyanness, because they come from villages along the border. It is therefore welcome reprieve to see the acceptance of the 43rd tribe3,4, who were issued with identity cards and induced to the Kenyan voting process5, big win! Not left behind also is the newly formed 44th tribe, Kenyan Indians.
This article outline reflections from two participants, both located in Nairobi, but facing different challenges. The first one, call her X, said that the whole process took roughly six months. Now, with the uptake of ICTs, e.g., the now defunct identity7portal, it is expected that the turnaround time should be at most 6 weeks +/- 2 weeks from submission. Unfortunately, X’s problem was not an ICT issue, it was the offline challenge of finding her local chief (needed to sign her registration papers). The nearest chief to her, was not from her location. This brought an interesting conundrum, how can someone identify locations in this age of ICTs? The most obvious answer is Google maps, but Google Maps does not contain location or sublocation information. In light of this, are there ICT tools that inform citizens on lower level locations and jurisdictions? Is this information only available offline? X, learnt the ‘cheat sheet’, “lie about where you come from and you’ll get the signature”, but is this the easiest way?
The second participant, call her Y belongs to a subset of Kenyans, often overlooked, not bound by tribe, who require a special identity card. Their case, however, is not limited to citizens over 18 years, these are people who in one way or another require assistance to execute certain tasks. Executing tasks may be difficult or slower because they have an impairment. They are persons with disabilities (PWD), who form 3% of Kenyans8 sadly, that number is increasing every day. Unfortunately, the process of acquiring a disability card is time consuming and juxtaposing with participant X, most times, lying helps you get the card faster. Below is an outlining of the process of acquiring a disability card
Step 1: Medical assessment from a government hospital.
Step 2: Wait for hospital board to meet before approving your medical assessment. It is not clear when the board meets (maybe ICTs can facilitate this)
Step 3: Take the Form to the Ministry of Health to be signed. The timeline for this depends on whether you come from Nairobi or not, the process is fast tracked for people outside Nairobi. The participant mentioned “Ole kwako ukisema unatoka Nairobi!” (Woe unto you if you say you come from Nairobi). The trick is to play, the “I am not from Nairobi Card”, if you want the form returned on the same day.
Step 4: Submit the above form along with your passport photo and a registration form to the National Council for Persons With Disabilities (NCPWD) to be registered.
Y was had a visual impairment and was brought in by a physically ableperson. The interaction with the participant exposed my unconscious bias, and immediately I realised that discrimination occurs because most people do not relate to the experiences PWD go through, unless they have interacted with them. The consent form presented was typed, not in braille, although I was privy that she would be in attendance.
On ICT tools deployed, it was important to check whether the government has the needs of PWD at heart. We looked at five tools deployed, ecitizen, MyGov, Delivery, iTax, active social media pages (Immigration, KRA, Huduma).
Below are instances of unconscious bias and remedies that can be employed using the ICT tools listed above
- Government websites are inaccessible (not optimized for persons with visual impairment, for example, they do not allow activation of the read aloud text)
- Sunday’s Facebook live9,10,11Chat with the president: there was no sign language interpreter or CC12 for the saved recording
- MyGov has a monthly printout in the dailies, however, there is no newspaper printed in braille
- None of the websites have an offline manual in braille on how to use the website
Some of the remedies to be employed can be:
- Have websites optimised for PWD to allow read aloud and compatibility with visual impairment equipment
- Have a sign language interpreter and CCs for offline video
- Once in awhile print newspapers in braille, which can also contain information on government websites
The biggest takeaway is that PWD prefer offline because using offline channels, one is easily identified and therefore gets the first priority than online, where their identity is not usually considered making the tools inaccessible. Online has the additional challenge where one has to learn how the tools work with no prior training or manual, whereas when visiting government offices, a representative will help you through the process.
There are a lot of factors at play when it comes to identity,itencompasses more than one piece of information to authenticate an individual (for instance, ID no and ReCAPTCHA [verification whether one is human]). As the government increases the uptake of ICTs, it is imperative that they take into consideration accessibility for all citizens and citizens' familiarity of the tools. For example, how many visually impaired people will get an opportunity to read this article? The onus is on both parties, the government to launch accessible ICTs tools and citizens to use the tools and demand for improvements when need be.
* The final report, which will be made available will contain comprehensive findings from our study from three counties.
7 No longer exists
12 Closed Caption, used to display text (subtitles) on video